Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Bit of a Break

I've been woefully derelict in my bloggy duties of late. I apologize for that, but I'm taking my lack of beer-related pontification as a sign. So, I've decided to take December off—to recharge the ol' battery as it were. The game plan is to get through the holidays, with jump back into the pool of beery goodness, in January. Hopefully with a new perspective—and maybe a little insight, too.

See you bright and early in the New Year!

Friday, November 21, 2014

This Is Why I Love Beer

Courtesy of Carlsberg Group
No, not because of girls in sexy blue Santa outfits.
Okay, not only because of girls in sexy blue Santa outfits. 

Yeah, yeah, I know I'm coming at this late (by two weeks), but when I read about the (relatively new) Danish tradition of J-Day (or J-Dag in Danish), my love for all things fermentable was reaffirmed.

What exactly is J-Day—or more precisely—Julebryg Day? I'll let Helen Russell of the Guardian explain.
This is J-day, the first Friday in November, when the Christmas beer, or Julebryg, is delivered to every town in Denmark and the first snow of the season traditionally falls. Temperatures often sink to below zero at this time of year, but in case Mother Nature doesn’t oblige, lorries [that's trucks to you an me Americanos] pump out gallons of fake snow to get everyone in the mood.
At precisely 9pm, Carlsberg’s Tuborg Julebryg – a 5.6%-proof liquorice-infused pilsner that is Denmark’s fourth bestselling beer, despite only being on sale for 10 weeks a year – will go on sale across the country. The beer gives its name to J-day (J-dag in Danish), which was accepted into the Danish dictionary in 2008 as “the day a brewery’s Christmas beer comes on the market”.
According to the article, the idea of J-Day was spurred on by an animated advertisement for Tuborg Julebryg back in 1980. The cartoon features Santa and reindeer chasing a truck full of Tuborg—en lieu of their regular Christmas Eve duties—and has run unchanged for the past 34 years. Since 1990 Carlsberg employees have been giving out free samples of the anise flavor brew—at what now totals 400 locations across Denmark.

I know some of you are going to say "Carlsberg?! Carlsberg is macro crap!" But who cares? It's fun, and it's tradition. So much so that according to the article, school teachers and employers complained that absenteeism was so high on the Thursdays after J-Day, that Carlsberg switched the unofficial holiday from Wednesday to Friday in 1999.

Oh, and there's always a theme. This year it was a Michael Jackson theme—the King of Pop, not the beer writer.

I have no explanation for that, all I know is I want an American version J-Day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Battered (and Beery) Bastard of Bastogne

December 1944 was a horrific experience for American troops in the Ardennes forest of Belgium.

In a last ditch effort to reach the port city of Antwerp, the German army mounted on all out effort to punch a hole in the Allied lines along the German border. By Christmas they had pushed a nearly 60 mile “bulge” into American held territory. On December 19th, the U.S.’s 101st Airborne Infantry Division and elements of the 10th Armored Division were sent in to fortify the village of Bastogne where seven main roads converged, making it a critical point in the German advance. By December 21st the town and its beleaguered defenders were completely surrounded, and outnumbered five to one.

But the line held.

German artillery pounded the U.S lines for days. When hit, the tall pine trees of the Ardennes exploded. The “tree bursts” hurled splinters and heavy branches, killing or wounding many more of the of the G.Is than the shells actually did. U.S patrols that wandered too far from their positions were easily captured or killed. The temperature dropped well below freezing, and the frozen ground made entrenching nearly impossible. Fires along the front lines were forbidden. The troopers and tankers were woefully under equipped, some wearing the same uniforms they wore when they dropped into France in June. Trench foot and frostbite were rampant. Snow kept supplies lines bogged down, and a persistent fog made airdrops nearly impossible, keeping ammunition, food and warm clothing from reaching the encircled soldiers.

But again, the line held.

Two days after Christmas, elements of the Third Army broke the German stronghold around Bastogne. The 101st, however would not be relieved until the 17th of January.

For one trooper, machine gunner Private Vincent Sperenza, of H Company, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, a brief respite from the grueling events of the Battle of the Bulge—involving a wounded buddy and an M1 helmet full of beer—would result a pretty amazing immortalization—which came as a surprise to him 70 years later.

But, Mr Sperenza tells it better than I can…

Airborne, a 7.5% dark ale, is brewed by Brasserie de Bouillon, in Bouillon Belgium, and is the house beer at Brasserie Lamborelle, a beer-centric pub in Bastogne—a five minute drive from where Private Sperenza'a fox hole was.

It's always served in a miniature ceramic, M1 helmet.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Sanctity of "India"

A few days ago Tom Cizaukas of Yours for Good Fermentables, found out that Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver had some thoughts on India Pale Lager; or more precisely that the use of “India” as a euphemism for all heavily hopped beer irked him. Oliver argued for a more creative approach when naming a new style, because as he notes "…if the word 'India' means 'hoppy', and IPA can be white, or black, or a lager, or sour....what does 'IPA' mean?

Garrett’s argument seems a bit more like the realization that his own influence on all things beery has begun to wane, and he’s a bit miffed someone didn’t ask him his opinion before they started naming their beer. But, to the larger issue, if I were a brewer, why fight an uphill battle when it comes to selling beer by trying to create a new “style”? Every other gimmick in the book is employed when it comes to moving beer, so why not use the path of least resistance when it comes to naming a really hoppy lager?

More to the point, “India” has been synonymous with hoppy for far longer than IPA has been associated with beer exportation to India. Furthermore, historically, “India” has been associated with other beer styles besides pale ale, specifically Export India Porter—an IPA-level hopped (upwards of 20 pounds per barrel) porter that kicked around from the early 19th century into the 20th century, and like IPA, used the label “India” well after it had stopped being shipped east. “Style creep” is not a new phenomenon. Be it a stylistic anomaly, oxymoron, or simply downright uncreative—like it or not—“India” now means hoppy. Language and the meaning behind words change, and so goes beer.

That being said, I wondered how some of my other beery compadres—those who use nomenclature daily when writing about beer—felt about Oliver’s statement, and the prolific use of “India”. So I posed this question to them: 
Do you believe that “India” (when related to beer) has come to mean bitter and hoppy, and therefore is it fair to say “India” as a descriptor, can be applied to a variety of beers if the intention is to imply that the beer is hoppy and bitter? Or, should the use of “India” be held fast only to India Pale Ale?
Here’s what came back:

Jordan St. John
The whole thing is a nonsensical appropriation of a term from the 19th century. Even in England IPA doesn't mean "Big Hoppy Beer."
We have all of us had that 3.5% IPA that is the direct legacy of that tradition.
The real difficulty is that we're in a period of rapid growth and development for an ingredient. If you look at the proliferation of styles that happens in Germany and England in the mid 19th century as a result of having the ability to suddenly create malt at different kiln treatments reliably; the lightening of beer throughout that century, it's very similar to what's happening now. Try, I dare you, to separate a Helles and a Dortmunder on the basis of taste alone. Styles were categorized geographically rather than on a continuum.
Similarly, we now have a situation where we've developed God only knows how many varieties of hops in the last forty years and more or less the same thing is happening. The difference is that the signifier that has been glommed on to is IPA because that was the hoppiest beer. It is convenient as a story. I wonder whether Garrett would care about the process of development if that signifier was left alone.
Style creep certainly happens, but that's how beer has always developed. Vienna Lager becomes Marzen. Pilsner becomes Helles. The difference is that in the 19th century the development was based on things getting lighter and more drinkable because there was paler malt. Now we got a wider variety of hop characters so of course hops that might benefit an existing style sneak into that style. Mr. Oliver himself has put Sorachi Ace in a Saison. That's not a traditional thing. The addition of new ingredients to additional styles is style creep certainly, but it's what happens when there are new ingredients and talented people.

Max Bahnson a.ka. Pivní Filosof
I wrote something on topic two and a half years ago:
I don't disagree with Oliver, but getting too wound up about that is a waste of time. It's like complaining that it's cold winter, it might make you feel better about yourself, but you'll still have to put your coat on. And let's be honest, whether we like it or not, when we see something labelled as This-or-that IPA, IPThis-or-that or India This-or-that we do get a fairly good idea of what we can expect, so I'd say that the nomenclature sort of works, if you are willing that IP(A) or India as a descriptor like Stout once was.

Ray Bailey of Boak & Bailey
Jess and I just had a chat about this.
We're pretty relaxed about the evolution of language, on the whole. Things change, and it's fun to watch while they do.
India, to us, means relatively strong, and hoppy, so we'd expect, say, India sour stout to be strong, hoppy, dark and sour.
GO [Garrett Oliver] has a point, though - why *not* invent new style names?  Or do without them altogether?
Answer: because people would be snarky...?

Stan Hieronymous
If we are to consider the population as a whole I'd say there are at least 4 groups
• Those bothered by the imprecise use of language. How can an India PALE Ale be black? And therefore all other variations, such as IPL, are silly.
• Those who think the styles that MJ [Michael Jackson] basically made up once upon a time are all we need.
• Those who don't understand, or probably care, what any of this style talk is about.
• Those, and these are the people driving sales right now, who use "hoppy" and IPA as synonyms. IPL tells them something.
I've heard him [Oliver] speak at length about nomenclature. He needs to read "Naming Nature" to realize how imprecise the scientific world can be.

Chad Polenz
Garrett Oliver is absolutely right. Basically India or IPA is just a synonym for hoppy. Black IPA, Session IPA, IPL, et al. It's just a cultural phenomenom. Not sure how it happened, exactly. And it IS ridiculous that we're still using the word "India". I think we need to re-brand the American-style IPA as simply "American Ale" or something like that.
I think it's too late now, though. The IPA-ization of everything is here to stay. People in the beer community will always know what IPA and India really mean. If you don't know what those terms mean, you're probably not a beer drinker (of anything other than BMC) and therefore you probably won't like an IPA anyway.

Alan McLeod
If I see "India" on anything but IPA I assume it means the beer is a mess. It does not actually mean big and hoppy so much as "lazy brewer." Same goes for barrel aged. IPLs are a perfect example of discordant tail-chasing bad beer design. Caused by the 3000 brewery universe as folk seem to need to both follow trends and stand out.

Jeff Alworth
Funny you should ask. I blogged about (and later argued with Alan about) it a couple months ago:
Mostly what I think about the question is addressed there, but here are three bonus points,
• Styles and names are never fixed. Anyone who has spent five minutes in Pattinson's archives gets this. One decade, Beer X means this, and then the next it changes. "Styles" are at best loose agreements between brewers and drinkers. In Germany, the distinctions are very fine (southern German pilsner versus helles), whereas in Belgium they are broad to the point of meaninglessness.

• The United States, not surprisingly, has adopted far looser commitment to style dictates. (Think of the stuff we call "Chinese" food.) Some things are very specific (an American helles is usually pretty close to a German one) and some are totally impressionistic (pale ale). IPA is no more or less than an expression of the American approach to appropriation and distortion that is exemplified throughout the food and beverage world.
• It doesn't matter what we think of this issue now: it will change. In 20 years, this whole IP-something will have become something else, but good luck guessing what. 

Evan Rail
It’s not just that styles change, but that language changes. Look at the word momentarily, which first appeared in English around 1650 or so. For centuries, momentarily was almost exclusively used to mean “for a moment,” or “briefly.” But today the word is mostly used to mean “in a moment,” or “very soon,” a sense it only acquired about a hundred years ago.

Think about that the next time the pilot says that your plane will be taking off “momentarily.”

Railing about India or IPL being an incorrect term is just as useful as complaining that the word momentarily should never be used to mean “in a moment,” and should only be used to mean “briefly.”

Language changes. Words acquire new meanings, and lose old ones. Deal with it.

Martyn Cornell
Yes, “India” is now shorthand for “very hoppy”, and frankly I have no problem with that. People need guidance as to what to expect from what they’re buying. Complaining that “India” now means “hoppy” is like complaining that “stout” now means “dark” when it originally just mean “strong”, or “mild” now implies something dark and weak when it originally meant something pale and strong—or, even, that “IPA” originally meant a beer that had to be stored for months, while today it means a beer that has to be drunk young before the hop flavours disappear. Nor do I believe that “IPA” itself is now debased through people saying “black IPA”, “white IPA” or whatever —even “IPL”. I don’t believe anybody is really confused by seeing a beer called “IPA” and not knowing what they’re likely to get, and if they see it appended with other adjectives, such as “Belgian”, to make “Belgian IPA”, I reckon if they have enough experience they can work out that they’re going to get something that’s going to be like a very well-hopped Saison. Similarly if someone sells me an “IPL” I know what to expect. I believe Garrett Oliver is completely wrong in getting upset at this, and I look forward to trying my first IPL.

That wraps it up on this end. many thanks to all of the writers who contributed. The only question left is, what do you think? Feel free to leave your comments below.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Of Beer and Writing

I don’t consider myself a beer writer, let alone an author.

I am a person who enjoys beer and beery history. Through the magic of the internet I have taken it upon myself to write about both of those topics, which in turn has also resulted in a book‚ but I still don’t perceive myself as a “writer”. That may seem paradoxical, but it’s the truth. 

That being said, a day or two ago Boak & Bailey—a duo that I would very much consider to be quite excellent beer writers—distilled the last 54 years of beer writing into a 1,000+ word post. Granted, B&B’s writing on the topic has a decidedly British slant (and they acknowledge that) but all in all, the post is amazing concise, simply outlining many—not all, but many—of the milestones, and notable folks in beer writing since 1960.

B&B are usually an inquisitive, and thoughtful lot; bringing up their own questions and commenting on the state of beer, but this particular post was different. This post wasn’t about them or their ideas. It looked at how others perceive beer and how they have expressed their perceptions—be them critical, historical cultural or industry-based—through writing, and for quite some time now. Uniquely, B&B are part of the beer writing history, and are writing about that history. It’s all very meta.

At the end of their dissertation, B&B ask, “When will beer writing really have secured itself a place in mainstream culture?”

I think beer writing has entered the mainstream culture. But maybe not in the way B&B mean. Not through publishing houses and printed tomes of beery knowledge. The Internet has spawned a menagerie of beery articles, blogs, review sites, and social media. Some of the best beer writing I’ve ever read has come from bits and articles, flung to me across the internet. Take Max Bhanson for instance. Nobody—I mean nobody—can capture what would normally be a completely inconsequential event, and make it become the most interesting thing you’ve read all day, better than he does on his blog. Simply put, the internet may be the ideal format for beer writing, in whatever shape it appears.

But there’s a downside to that. With the good comes the bad. Scruples, courtesy, ethics, and journalistic integrity often go out the window on the internet. Posts like this weasel their way in. They are not even opinion. They are just myopic rants—rudeness in the name of beer. Totally and utterly un-constructive.

And yet, they are still both beer writing—one good, and one very, very bad—but beer writing all the same.

They also are very much mainstream.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Craft Radicalization

This morning on Facebook Lew pointed out an article from, written by former NFL punter for the Minnesota Vikings and avid video gamer, Chris Kluwe. Kluwe writes about his disgust with the gaming world’s confounding problem of those self-appointed “true” gamers an their unwillingness to accept who they see as outsiders—notably women game developers—encroaching on their so-called "territory." Kluew’s position is that the rhetoric—and in some cases threats—is becoming unacceptable. Video games have become a cultural norm and its time those “true” gamers came to accept that.

Lew asked on Facebook after reading Kluwe s piece “Why is it that as I read this…I keep thinking of craft beer.

He’s right. Kluwe s point and some of the issues in craft beer today do overlap. Not necessarily like that of those "true" gamer's masogenistic slant, but a related issue—an issue of hostile, self-appointed worthiness.  

There are a lot of great things about craft beer, but there’s some really nasty bits too, and "craft radicalism" (as I have come to call it of late) is one of them. Craft radicalism is the need to defend “craft” for “craft’s” sake, and the ever-increasing aggressive stance taken by those who feel that craft beer should be drank and appreciated by only those who are deemed—by the radicalized—as worthy. To many folks, this might seem to be a non-issue; “Oh, that person is just a hot head”, or “Who cares what that person thinks, drink what you like," and I was in agreement, until I was on the receiving end of a radicalized tirade myself a few weeks ago. Initially I had decided not to write about it, but now seems like it may be a good time.

Allow me to set the stage. I follow a local “support craft beer” page on Facebook. Ninety-nine percent of the posts are of the typical sorts you might find on such a page—photos of someone’s most recent DIPA acquisition, the occasional tasting, food pairing or event notifications, links to articles on Beer Advocate, and random questions about the best yada-yad beer on the market. All pretty typical stuff. I rarely contribute, but I know the creator/moderator of the site, so I thought the page might be an appropriate place for a link from here about one of the upcoming Upper Hudson Valley Beer book events.

I was apparently wrong. Within minute of the posting I was told—not by the creator of the site, but by another follower—that this site was not the place to post my self-promotion, and that a book about beer history has nothing to do with craft beer. I had been deemed not "craft" enough. Here’s the full interaction (I’ve removed all names, except mine):
Craig Gravina: If you missed our Albany Institute book event... I've got some good news for ya'!
JM: Lots of self-promotion and not much else...
CG: JM, I don't think we've ever met, but you've made a couple of dick comments to me. Have I pissed you off or something? What's up?
JM: We have met in fact. I am a believer that posts should contribute and not be purely selfish. Perhaps I am wrong and there are people who benefit from this post more that you, but I'm sure you saw what happened when XXX repeatedly spammed with his blog bullshit.
CG: I guess you won’t be wanting me to save you a copy of the book.
As far as my contribution goes, I think my work with the Albany Ale Project—and my book—has contributed significantly to both the the public record and a better understanding of the history of brewing not only in the upper Hudson Valley of New York, but also the country. 
Forgive me, but what is your contribution, again?
In regards to page moderation, since this is XXXX page, maybe we should let him decide who contributes and who does not.
JM: I do love this common question...why don't you write a post/blog/book/epic tale better than me? When I have something to contribute I do. When I don't, or what I would contribute is of no interest, which is most of the time, I don't. As your post does nothing to explain any history, I think it falls pretty solidly in the second category. You even know you're being an asshole because you state it in the post title. Read the group description, this is not a group for self promotion spam*.
CG: This group is also a place where you don't get to decide what does or does not get posted. Sorry.
JM: You and XXXX really are a special group of people.
CG: Good come back. 
JM: That's not a comeback you fucking retard. Both of you guys are self promotional assholes who haven't contributed anything tangible to either CRAFT beer (as the group is named) or society at all. Albany Ale is not craft beer, nor is anything else you post about. This is not a group for historical ale or italian eateries** that just happen to, yup, carry hop nosh. The world would be better off if both of you ate a little lead, and not in the same way that got you to where you are today. This is a fucking comeback.
CG: Did you just threaten to kill me over a post on Facebook? Seriously, dude, you need to settle down.
JM: I'm not your mother. Feed yourself. 

I realize this is an isolated incident (and I may have helped escalate it), and I’m not writing this as a call for my defense (don’t worry, I have pretty thick skin), but it does speak to the larger issue of craft radicalization—an issue not unlike Kluwe’s gaming issue. Craft radicalization and the idea, by some folks, that craft needs to be protected from some sort of phantom onslaught of mediocrity or from abduction by the unworthy—civil discourse be damned—is wrong, and that ain't cool. In truth, beer doesn’t need that kind of protection, and in fact it, beer doesn’t belong to those who have appointed themselves its worthy protectors in the first place. What it does need protection from is unacceptable, repugnant, radicalized behavior like that of above. I have little time for the “I’m more craft than you” turgidity, and even less time for threats.

There’s been a lot of talk lately of what will kill craft beer—craft versus krafty, big craft vests local and 10,000 other nonsensical arguments about the imminent demise of craft. Ya’ know what really kills craft beer for me?

People like JM. 

* The group’s description says nothing of the like. It does however, say: “Positive and negative comments are welcome, however please be respectful of others in the group."

** This is a nod to a previous interaction in which JM thought that my suggestion that a local import store had a decent selection of beer—Hop Nosh, Ommegang, Samuel Adams, etc.—was completely ridiculous, because “those aren’t really sought after or lusted after beers.”

Friday, October 17, 2014

Albany Ale: The Preposterous Processes of Amsdell's Porter

It dawned on me the other day that I’ve not really written about historic porter in and around Albany.

The epiphany came earlier in the week when Chad Polenz of, asked if I was interested in doing a dual book signing at the Homebrew Emporium. Chad’s book The Handbook of Porters and Stouts hits shelves in the next few weeks, and the Emporium just received a shipment of my book, Upper Hudson Valley Beer. A dual signing at the area’s best home brew shop is a no-brainer, and when in Rome, I suggested we also brew a historic porter (specifically from a recipe in the turn-of-the-century, George I. Amsdell Brewing & Malting Company log-books, held by the Albany Institute of History & Art) on the day of the signing. As of right now, our tentative date for the brew day/book signing is December 14.

A homebrew shop, a book on beer history, a book about porter, and a historic porter recreation—the event sells itself, right?

So, down the rabbit hole I went. 

Arguably the defining beer of 19th century London, and historically popular in U.S. cities like Philadelphia and Boston, porter was also produced in the Upper Hudson Valley—although it seems not to the extent of ale. Perhaps this is because porter stems from a British tradition, and the Upper Hudson valley was still quite Dutch, culturally, into the early 19th century. However, it's likely that many of the area's breweries were making some variation of porter in the 18th century. In 1791 William Faulkner (No, not that William Faulkner) was advertising porter at his Arbor Hill brewery in Albany; and nearly all of the Hudson Valley brewers were making it during the first half of the 19th Century. Brewers up and down the Hudson testified to making porter in the 1835 hearing before the New York State Senate. By the very late 19th century porter was still being made by a number of area breweries—at Fitzgerald Brothers in Troy; in Albany at Quinn & Nolan, and Taylor Brewery—among others—and of course at the George I. Amsdell Brewing Company & Malting Company.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of Amsdell’s porter, I need to pause here and clarify something. I mentioned ale earlier. It’s not until recently (recently being the 20th century) that porter has gained an association as “ale”. Yes, it’s fermented warm, and top fermented, but for the majority of its life, porter was considered to be its own animal, and not simply black ale. Advertisements in Britain and America throughout the 18th and 19th centuries clearly differentiate the two brews. Brewers—and the public—obviously saw them as not one and the same.

Speaking of Britain, British brewers in the late 18th and early 19th century often aged porter. This aging altered the flavor of the porter, mostly because Brettanomyces claussenii in their wood fermenting tubs and unions contaminated the beer, causing it to sour over time as it aged in large vats. Later in the 19th century, brewers and pub landlords took to a more cost saving method of achieving what had become known as the “British flavor”. By blending an amount of a Brett infected aged, strong, stock or "old" ale (or, often additional aged porter) with fresh porter they could achieve an aged flavor, without actually aging it. Guinness continued this practice into the 1970s, adding 3%—or so—sour beer to their wort to achieve a slight tang. However, for the majority of brewers in Great Britain, old ale additions fell out of fashion during the mid-19th century when beer began being served "mild"—that is to say shortly after conditioning—and a slightly soured tang was no longer desirable.

In 1901, Albany’s Amsdell Brewing & Malting Company’s porter was a bit of an odd duck, because they were doing both—blending and aging—well after either practice had been dropped in Britain. According to brewing logs held by the Albany Institute of History & Art, Amsdell blended old ale into their porter wort after the boil, and then vatted it after fermentation (rather than racking it with kräusening wort as they did for many of their other beers). It was an exceptionally high amount of old ale they added, too—sometimes as much as 21% of the total volume, up to 65 barrels. Amsdell's old ale, however, may not have been old ale in the British, strong, soured ale sense of the word, but literally old beer that had been sitting around for a while, which had not been sold. Whether that beer was sour, remains to be seen. It may have been used as an adulterating agent, or simply as a way to get rid of overstock. Along with the heavy addition of old ale, Amsdell also added everything but the kitchen sink to their porter—licorice root, capsaicin (the stuff that makes chilies hot), and grains of paradise. The other additives may have masked the flavor of the older brew.

According to the Amsdell logs, porter was only brewed two or three times a year at the turn-of-the-century, and its grist was similar to other brews in Amsdell's line-up at the time—6-row and black malt, corn grits, and sugars. Tangential, and not distinct only to Amsdell's porter, a substantial amount of "Quick" malt was also used in the breweries second batch of porter in 1901. Martin Mowrer patented the process for making "Quick" malt in 1891. The process allowed for the malting of degerminated barley in as little as 24 hours—1/10 of the normal time. A good bit of salt and Irish moss was also included in the recipes.

The porter was moderately strong, about 6.3% ABV, with an OG in the low 1.070s, finishing around 1.023, making its attenuation about 65%; on par with Amsdell's other brews. 500 to 600 pounds of hops were used in each batch (~2 lbs/barrel), and were also added when the beer was stored.

The brewery also produced a second variation of porter—their Stock Porter—which looks to be nearly identical to their standard porter, except it seems to have not been vatted. The notation of “Stock” might mean, in Amsdellian parlance, “best”—as in the breweries top quality effort, regardless of style. At the time Amsdell was making its Stock Porter, it was also making in its regular rotation, Diamond Stock Ale, and far less often, India Pale Stock and XXX Stock. Old school specialty beer, perhaps?

Be it stock or standard, Amsdell’s porter, with its long list of ingredients, and odd techniques made it one of the brewery’s most unique brews—and one of its rarest, as well.

Now that's out of the way, we need to re-make it. See you on the 14th.

Coincidentally, today is also the 200th anniversary of the great porter flood in London

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Not So Quiet On the Eastern Front

It's a big, ol' love-fest in the craft beer world, right?

Well, maybe that bright and shiny "a rising tide lifts all boats" rhetoric is starting to tarnish, a bit. At least it is according to Dann Paquette of Pretty Things Ale and Beer Project. Esquire's Aaron Goldfarb broke the news of Paquette blowing the whistle on the "pay-to-play" tactics of Boston-area breweries and distributors who pay bars and restaurants to secure lines—essentially locking-out competitors. Paquette, urged others to join anti-'committed lines' cause via twitter, asking:

Big beer ethics in craft beer? Say it isn't so. That could never... happen... to craft.

By the way, good job Dann. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

I Think We Need to Clear Something Up

Everybody knows this latest argument of quality and local beer (and for that matter craft versus krafty) is partisan politics, right?

The arguments don't really have anything to do with quality or authenticity. They are politcal-esque attack ads. They are the beery equivalent of one politician claiming another politician voted against meals for the elderly (even thought the first guy probably also voted again the old folks). But it's not re-election or control of the Senate that's being quibbled over, it's control of the U.S beer market—and "craft" beer is in the middle of it, literally.

It all started 25 or 30 years ago, when micro-brewing got itself going. Companies like AB, Molson, and Miller were big—and times were good in the 1980s. The big boys had been sucking on the "too big to fail" tit since the 1970s. What did they have to fear from some upstart in Boston? Not much—at least not in their world. That was a mistake, because some of those 1980s microbreweries were good, and they grew because of it, slowly pushing into macro's profits. Then came "craft"—the marketing strategy that places authenticity, and so-called innovation, paramount to anything else. Micro-brewing, the denizen of beer-nerds and hobbyists, became "craft" brewing in the 2000s. "Craft" has brought along hipsters and radicalized fan-boys by the legions, first glancing, and now cutting a swath through macro's market share.

What's the lesson to be learned here boys and girls?

The big boys should have payed more attention to the little guys. Perhaps a smiting was in order. That didn't happen. Faux craft or krafty happened, and conglomeration—as is the preferred tactic of macro brewing—happened. In any case, most of the actions came a bit too little, a bit too late.

Do you know who the lesson was not lost on?

Those same upstart breweries, who are not so upstart anymore. Those breweries who grabbed onto "craft" and ran with it—Big Craft. They can now afford marketing departments and strategists, and can sway distributors—all through "craft". This puts them in a unique position, to 1) continue to undermine the macro brewing industry—by using their "craft" credibility; 2) proliferate the "craft" mantra to new breweries and; 3) eat their own young—with warning shots across the bow about lack of quality undermining the industry.

The small guys—the local breweries—hear that they need to be "craft" from their venerable elders, because craft is good and not-craft is bad,  so "craftier" they become—in go the pickles and pepperoni and out comes the bad beer. Macro is chasing the illusive credibility of "craft"—or at least attempts to appear that they are, to gain back their lost percentage of the market. All the while Big Craft sits in the middle like "The Man With No Name" in a  Sergio Leone spaghetti western, playing both sides against each other.

Big craft knows there is a chink in macros armor. Macro beer will still be a major player in the U.S market, but they'll start—actually they've already started—to look to non-U.S. markets to make-up for their loss. The bad-press of craft versus krafty only helps to move that process along. It gets the dander up, if you will.  Big craft also sees weakness in smaller, local breweries. First many of those breweries have been opened by people who shouldn't be opening business—beery or otherwise—in the first place. Secondly, they know that "craft's" mantra of authenticity and "innovation" (i.e potentially, and quite often bad beer)—only acts to undermine those businesses built on unstable foundations to begin with. Big Craft can then turn that lack of quality against those smaller breweries. There lies the "local beer has quality issues" argument.  In the end, it all works out for Big Craft.

It's actually a pretty brilliant strategy—political campaign-style beer selling.

Beery folk have convinced themselves that beer—especially craft beer—is one big happy family. It's not. Beer is a business. Boston Beer Company, Lagunitas, Bells, Stone—and the like—may have started in a garage—but so did Microsoft. It's about market share and money. The arguments of authenticity, quality, and local are straw man arguments. Big Craft wants to sell beer, and they want to sell more beer than the next guy. He who dies with the most number of distributors wins.

Got it? Good. I just want to make sure everybody is one the same page.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Easy Money

The big dance in Denver is done, and the winners have been announced.

If I were a betting man—which I’m not, but let’s say I was—which brewery would I bet on as almost a guarantee to medal at the Great American Beer Festival next year? For this exercise the number of medals received is irrelevant, just as long as a gold, silver or bronze is awarded. So, which brewery has consistently medaled over the lifetime of the the festival. 

Since I’m not a betting man, I’m not going to bet on the jockey with the prettiest silks, if I’m going put down the coin I want a nearly guaranteed, positive outcome, in my favor. 

So who’s it most likely gonna be? Is it an up-and-comer on the cutting edge of “craft” like Lawson’s Finest Liquids? Nope. Not even close. How about venerable favorites like Founder’s, Firestone Walker or Dogfish Head? Nuh-uh. What about big craft? Your odds are getting better, but no.

The easy money bet is Alaskan Brewing Company.

Alaskan has medaled 25 times out of 28 showings since official judging started at the GABF in 1987. That’s an almost 90% success rate. If you want a nearly guaranteed win, bet on Alaskan. 

Buuuuuut, there is a a slight hiccup. 

Although official judging (that is to say standardized, panel judging) began in 1987, the festival held a “Consumer Preference Poll” from it’s beginning in 1983 until the poll was eliminated in 1988, ushering in the “modern” era at the festival. During the “unofficial” era, Boston Beer Company took home poll medals in 1985 and 1986. Those two extra medals tie Boston Beer with Alaskan over the full 32 year run of the GABF, however in the “modern” era of the GABF (from 1987 to 2014) Boston Beer trails Alaskan 23 to 25 in the medal count.

All said and done, your best bets for next year—literally—are Alaskan first, Boston Beer second—and coming in to show—Sierra Nevada, with 22 total appearances.

So what does all this mean? Not much to me, because I still think beer judging is dopey.

Editor's Note: Only six of the breweries—Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer, Snake River, Alaskan, Widmer and Capital—who medaled between 1983 and 1987, also medaled in 2014. Of those six, Sierra Nevada is the only one to have medaled in both the first festival and this past festival.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Albany Ale: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I was watching TV this morning.

That's a pretty normal occurrence at 6:30ish in the a.m., at our house. My usual routine is get up, make coffee, surf the internet, watch a little local news, and wait for the kids to wake-up. Normal every day stuff. Beer—let alone historic beer advertising—does not normally play into this equation.

Today it did—and from a rather unusual source. A local heating and plumbing company's 30 second TV commercial.

Crisafulli Brothers, the aforementioned contractors, have been servicing Albany, Schenectady and Troy’s residential heating, cooling and plumbing issues since way back in 1939. Their most recent advertisement plays off their longstanding service to the community. It opens with a photo of Albany’s N. Pearl Street from the late 1940s. The nearly subliminal blink that the photo is shown could not best my keen eagle-eye when it comes to Albany’s beery past. For even as quickly as the black and white image flipped past I saw it like a beacon in the night—“Beverwyck”.

It just so happens I know the principal player in the advertising agency who put the piece together for Crisafulli Brothers—one Mr. John Schaefer of Schaefer Media & Marketing. A few quick emails back and forth with John, and I now present to you the image for your own inspection:

“First truly great beer and ale in 8 years! Beverwyck Golden Dry Beer and Irish Cream Ale” 

Eight years? The photo was taken in 1948 or 1949, so what happened eight years prior to that?

Quite a lot, actually. 

In 1948 the U.S was still recovering from the Second World War. As of about 1942, the use of cereal grains—like barley—and other fermentables, like sugar were being restricted and rationed for the war effort. Bread, for a 20th-century, 12-million strong military is more important than beer. Not to mention that rationing stateside continued even after the war. But that only puts us at six or seven years prior to the photo being taken? How do we get to eight years earlier? Eight years would put us in the pre-war years of 1940 or 1941* when grain was not restricted.

Actually it was restricted, but not by the government. It was restricted by Mother Nature. Those same U.S. mid-western and Canadian prairie grain farmers, who’s grain was being grown under their respective Government’s contracts during the early 1940s, were also still recovering from the Dust Bowl droughts of the mid and late 1930s, which means really good quality brewing grains were hard to come even as early as 1940. It seems, at least according to the billboard in the photo, that things don’t start to turn around—as far as quality brewing materials for breweries to use—until the late 1940s.

There’s another possible twist in this story.

Just after this photo was taken—the period from the early 1950s to the mid 1960s—marks the beginning of the era in U.S. brewing history when the country's large brewing companies began buying up smaller regional breweries. Including Beverwyck who was purchased by the east coast behemoth, F&M Schaefer (no relation to John Schafer, above) Brewing Company in 1950.

Perhaps, what happened wasn’t simply a scenario that companies like Anheuser Busch or Pabst had grown so exponentially—both before and after prohibition—that they had become so large as it was nearly impossible for smaller, regional breweries to compete with, and were therefore forced out of business or bought out; but rather that the thirteen year hiatus of national prohibition and the obvious negative affect it had on all brewing, which although, some regionals did survive, was compounded only a few years later with the lack of readily available brewing materials in the late 1930s, due to drought, and then Government restrictions on the use of cereal grains (and sugar) during WWII, five to ten years later. All of that combined is what ultimately killed the small to mid-sized regional brewery in America. It’s the old one, two, three punch. By the mid-1960s you have regional breweries that cannot sustain themselves without a merger or buyout, and in-steps the large brewing conglomerates to buy those business that would have collapsed anyhow. 

That also sets up another scenario.

Maybe companies like AB, Pabst, and Schaefer didn’t kill American brewing—maybe they saved it.

*The U.S. doesn’t enter WWII until December 8, 1941, so most of 1941 is pre-war.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Albany Ale: Early Albany Beer

First off, on a totally unrelated, post topic note. I don’t believe I could have summed up the events of last week thru Saturday more eloquently than Mr. McLeod did, so I won’t even try—other than to say thank you, thank you, thank you, to all who participated or were involved with the events.

The crew of the Half Moon at
Albany's early Albany Festival.
What I can say, however, is that this past Sunday's Early Albany Festival at Albany's Corning Preserve, and the return of the replica of Henry Hudson’s early 17th century ship De Halve Maen—better known in these parts as the Half Moon—for its annual autumn stop in Albany, has inspired two posts. The ship itself has prompted a search for the quality of beer aboard the jaght (more on that in the near future—I’m still digging), but whist digging I came across a few interesting tidbits in a 19th century history of Albany. These snippets come from Arthur J. Weise’s 1884 book, The History of the City of Albany, New York, From the Discovery of the Great River in 1524, by Verrazzano to the Present Time. Chapter nine describes the appearance of Albany as of 1685. Most of the homes and structures—numbering about 100—were framed timber, with thatched or shingled, but occasionally glazed tile, roofs; and surrounded by a thirteen feet tall stockade. It also mentions this:
Outside the inns hung square sign-boards, on which were the names of the landlords and of the houses, and the painted representations of some such objects as a sickle and a barley-sheaf, a beaver and a lodge, or a green tree with wide-spreading branches. These pictures often became the common designations for the taverns. The beer, wine, and strong water sold in them were carefully measured by the farmer of the liquor-excise, who derived considerable profits from his exclusive privilege to collect certain fixed rates on the quantity of liquor sold by each tapster and innkeeper. The patroon's brewery supplied the tap-rooms of the village with most of the beer drank in them. (1)
(1) In 1649, three hundred and thirty tuns of beer were made in the patroon's brewery.
The sign thing is cool, and we’ve seen reference before to the early Albany liquor excise and taxation, but I’m particularly interested in the footnote.

First off, how much was 330 tuns? Assuming that the Dutch tun is similar to an English tun (200ish gallons) from around the same time period, were talking about 66,000 gallons or just under 2,000 (Imperial) barrels per year. Not too shabby. Also, remember, in the 1630s and early 40s the Patroon, Kiliaen van Rensselaer, had a lock on brewing in the colony. In 1632, he wrote Johan de Laet saying, “As soon as there is a supply of grain on hand, I intend to erect a brewery to provide all New Netherland with beer…” That same year, van Rensselaer contracts with Jacob Albertsen Planck to “at his own expense and risk and full charge…[to] brew beer to be sold to the men of the Company or to the savages, or do otherwise therewith as he shall think fit.” Planck is the first brewer to make beer under the authority of the Patroon. By 1649, Evert Pels, Planck’s apparent replacement, is in the last year of his seven year contract with Patroon.

Although the Patroon had a ten year jump on brewing in the colony, by the late 1640s, things began to change for the "indie" brewer. A village had sprung up just north of Fort Orange, and Pieter Bronck, Jacob Hevick, Reyndert Pieterszto, Harmen Harmanse, Jan Weendorp, Rutger Jacobs and Gossen Gerritsz all opened breweries individually, or in partnerships, within the illegal settlement by the 1650s. That village would eventually become Beverwijck. Jan Labatie was even running a small brewery at the fort—not to mention the other brewers scattered around Rennselarwijck. That begs the questions, if the Patroon’s brewery was suppling most of Albany’s taprooms by the mid 1680s, where was the rest of the beer going? My guess is that the 1650s saw the start of Albany’s long waltz with beer exportation.

Weise’s book also gives insight into what kind of beer was being made by New Netherlanders around the same time as the purported 330 tuns of beer was being made at the Patroon’s brewery. Weise reports passages relayed, first hand, by Father Issac Jogues. The Jesuit missionary had visited the area in 1646, during his time acting as an ambassador to the Mohawk Nation, on behalf of Charles Huault de Montmagny, the Governor of New France. Jogues observed Fort Orange, with less than glowing praise, noting that it was “a miserable little fort…built of logs, with four or five pieces of Breteuil cannon and as many swivels.” He also comments on what he refers to as Rensselaerwijck, but is more likely writing about the village of Beverwijck itself. He notes:
This colony is composed of about a hundred persons, who reside in some twenty-five or thirty houses, built along the river as each one found most convenient…They found some pieces of cultivated ground, which the savages had formerly cleared, and in which they sow wheat and oats for beer, and for their horses, of which they have great numbers.
Wheat and oats. Notice that there is no mention of barley. Why? Because as we have established many-a-time, and as potential barley famers hoping to take advantage of New York State’s Farm Brewery law are finding out today—barley doesn’t grow well in New York. Ya' know what does grow pretty well? Wheat and oats.

Jogues also gives another clue about the quality of the beer  by calling it beer, rather than ale. In the late-Renaissance world of Father Jorgues there was a clear, and relatively simple difference between ale and beer. Although both today would be considered “ales” in the top and warm-fermented sense of the word, however during the 1600s the distinction was that ale contained less hops than beer, therefore beer was more bitter than ale.

This distinction has its roots in the 14th and 15th century beer trade between hopped beer from Central Europe, (notably from the city of Hamburg) and the Low Countries (generally speaking, today’s Netherlands and Belgium) being imported into Great Britain; and un-hopped—or more likely less-hopped—ale, being exported from Great Britain to mainland Europe. The influx or exportation rose and fell, for both (regardless of the direction of travel) over the next few hundred years. This is not to say bitter beer was not produced in Great Britain, or that less-hopped ale was not produced in Continental Europe, however, by the mid 17th century, it had been established that beer was more heavily hopped than ale, and that the Low Countries were noted producers of it—and for that matter also as noted growers of hops* and oats. Long story short, it’s telling that Jogues used the word beer rather than ale, because we can infer that what was brewed in Beverwijck, if not all of New Netherland, was probably somewhat bitter.

When you think about it, thats a lot of info in one little package. Between Weise’s footnote and Jorgue’s note on the sowing of wheat and oats for “beer”—75 words, all said and done—we can glean quite a bit about beer made in over 350 years ago, involving both quantity of production, and its ingredients.

Just for the record, though, I think we’ll stick with “Albany Ale” rather than "Albany Beer" as far as the Albany Ale Project title goes.

*Hats off to Ian Spenser Hornsey, for a clear and rather concise foray into the beer versus ale trade across the North Sea 600 years ago, in his 2003 book A History of Beer and Brewing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Role Reversal

Regardless of your affinity for beer add-ins—be it pumpkin spice, coffee, bourbon, chocolate, flowers, chiles or in one overtly extreme (and kinda stupid) case, sheep’s testicle—they are here, most likely here to stay, whether right, wrong or indifferent. What you don’t see much, however is beer used as a flavoring. Yeah, yeah—I know adding bottle of stout to a pot stew makes for a pretty tasty gravy, but I talking about something different. I’m talking about beer-flavored “stuff”. In the last hour I’ve seen not one, but two stories of beer being used as the main flavor two decidedly not-beery applications.

Starbucks has announced plans for a Stout Latte, and a Vermont food purveyor is making beer jelly. Yes. that’s right I said jelly. Like "toast and jelly" jelly.

Beer flavored coffee and beer flavored jelly, eh? If this is the start of a movement for not-beer to start tasting like beer, how long do we have to wait for beer to loop back around and start tasting like itself again?

Bah-dum-bum! I'm in town all week folks. Try the veal its the best in the city.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Albany Ale: The Curious Case of Mr. Hoxsie's "Beer"

I've never given much thought to George W. Hoxsie (other than in regards to Carl Johnson’s spectacular local history blog which shares his name.) Although he has a slightly intriguing surname, Hoxsie appeared to be like a dozen or so of short-lived brewers operating in the city around mid-century. Most of those opened and closed in short succession. Hoxsie like George Weber, was also bottler, so his embossed bottles turn up every so often in my internet searches, but other than that, I never paid him much mind.

That was until last night when I spoke with a gentleman who called me from Washington state. This fellow, Gary, has a "Hoxie" (I'm assuming Hoxie was a typo or a copy cat) bottle in his collection, and it’s unlike any another American beer bottle he’s seen. Curious as to if I knew anything about it, Mr. Hoxsie and his beer, he phoned. Unfortunately, my bottle knowledge falls squarely into “shit from Shinola” category.

What I could look into were a few old advertisements for Hoxsie  The earliest pops up in 1861, announcing Mr. Hoxsie's business in Albany. It reads:

It seems that Hoxsie’s “Premium Beer” gets shortened to simply Hoxsie  shortly thereafter. Later ads from 1863 and 1864 advertise simply "HOXSIE!" in bold, typefaces—and don't even including an address. 

At some point Hoxsie moved his facility from Eagle Street to Hamilton Street. During the mid 1860s he purchased Thomas Jeffer’s (a soda and mineral water producer) bottling facility, and in 1867 he partnered with George Stevens, becoming Geo. W Hoxsie & Co. By the end of the decade, his ads  hawk his bottling facility—apparently the largest outside of New York City, his importation of wine and ales, and his manufacturing of Champagne cider. In 1872 Hoxsie old his share of the business to Stevens, taking a position with the City as Superintendent of the Poor (How’s that for a career change?!)

Here’s where it gets a bit confusing. By the late 1870s Hoxsie was not just a who, but had apparently become a thing. At least three bottling firms throughout the 1870s advertised themselves as the successors to Hoxsie & Co.—first Stevens & Mandaville, then Mandaville & Williams, J.H. Williams, and finally Thomas Jeffers. They all advertise—not as manufacturers of—but as bottlers of soda, sarsaparilla, kissingen, vichy and seltzer water, ginger ale, cider, lager, and most importantly (advertised as its own line item and in quotes) “Hoxsie”.

So what the heck was, Hoxsie? 

I have a guess—and it’s very much that, since I have no hard evidence supporting this hypothesis one way or the other.

Let’s start with the “Premium Beer” bit. It’s not ale. People would have known what ale was, and since ale was such a huge commodity in Albany by the 1860s, why not advertise it as ale if it was ale? It’s also not lager. In those later ads it’s clearly differentiated from lager as its own product. 

Let’s think about bottles for a bit. Albany’s beer market in the mid 19th century was very much export focused, and much of its beer was casked for practical purposes—bottles break, barrels don’t. Therefore, ale bottling probably wasn’t very big business for bottlers in the mid-19th century. So what beverages were bottled back then—sparkling beverages (hint: see above). 19th century bottlers specialized in making thick, heavy, cylindrical bottles specifically for heavily carbonated beverages. Good for keeping the fizz in, and also standing the test of time, hence Gary’s unique beer bottle.

Hoxsie’s “Premium Beer” may have been something like the "California Pop Beer" Alan wrote about a few weeks ago. California Pop Beer is concoction of of malt, grain alcohol, and sugar spiked with hops, ginger, sassafras, wintergreen, and spruce oils. Then watered down with…well water. Perhaps its “brewing” process is similar to Jamaican ginger beer, undergoing a brief fermentation to produce carbon dioxide, rather than copious amounts of alcohol. Hoxsie's “Premium Beer” might be akin to those fizzy beverages, spanning the blurry era of when the term “beer”—in the sense of root “beer” and ginger “beer”—still packed an ever so slight alcoholic punch. It may have been beer by the very basic definitions—a fermented, beverage containing malt, water, yeast and hops—just significantly (very significantly) “softer” than, say, the 7 to 9.5% ABV Albany Ale.

As to the name Hoxsie itself, I think by the mid 1860s “Hoxsie” may have become so identifiable as a brand in Albany that “Premium Beer” was dropped all together. Not unlike how Coke—and especially Pepsi—have dropped “Cola” from their names over the last forty or fifty years. There may have been imitators as well—an 1865 ad reads “NO GENUINE UNLESS MANUFACTURED AT 25 HAMILTON STREET”.

Beer? Not beer? Brewer or soda bottler? As usual, I’ve got to do more digging to do…but there is this rhyming coincidence, as well.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Gratuitous Self-Promotion: Didja Miss the Last Book Event?

Fear not and no worries!

We've got no less than four more events coming up next week!

Including Brown' Brewing Company's special cask release of their Honest Read Ale—at their newly opened Malt Room their Troy location on September 25th (For all y'all Facebooker's check out the event's FB page.

Honest Read is a homage to the brewers of Old Troy, and Brown's made this beer just for us and the release of Upper Hudson Valley Beer. It's a modern take on the Upper Hudson Valley brews of the 1830s—and a special tip of the chapeau to Troy brewer Thomas Read. For this new release, Brown's combined modern ingredients with those used 180 years ago. Taking a cue from Read, they used 2-Row brewer's malt and honey as their base, then added a bit of "newfangled" smoked malt, some caramel malt and Willamette hops to round everything out. 

We'll be pre-sampling Honest Read, and signing books, at Market Block Books on Tuesday the 23rd of September, and the O-fficial release party/book signing will follow on Thursday the 25th at Brown's. Of course books will be available at each event!

If you still haven't had enough, we'll be happy hour-ing up at the Lionheart, in Albany, Friday the 26th, and we'll be at SUNY Cobleskill's Grain to Glass Day on Saturday the 27th.


Here's a breakdown of all of the upcoming events, with links to the venues:

9/23 Market Block Books - Troy, NY
Book signing and Brown's Brewing Company beer tasting

9/25   Brown's Brewing Company  - Troy, NY
Book signing / Honest Read Ale release party
  Facebook info

9/26 Lionheart Pub (448 Madison Ave) - Albany, NY
Happy Hour book signing

9/27 SUNY Cobleskill Grain to Glass Day - Cobleskill, NY
Book signing and history talk

Hope to see you at one (or all) of them!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Beer of Place

The last few days have been hectic, hence my lack of posting.

An eight-year-old's birthday party over the weekend, and coordinating not only tonight's Albany Institute book launch event for Upper Hudson Valley Beer, but also our next event—a talk, book signing, and beer release shindig at Brown's Brewing Company on September 25th. Again, I repeat—a hectic few days. 

It's the little things that smooth everything out, though. Like last night, a brief respite of a beer whilst grilling sausage. Harpoon IPA, to be exact. Nothing fancy, just a dependable tipple.  It was whilst grilling and chilling (sorry), when something caught me eye on the back label of the bottle— "New England-style IPA".

Yeah, yeah. I know this isn't pinewood.
Hmm. Beer that represents a place. I like that. 

Granted "New England", or for that matter "West Coast", is pretty broad, but I like the idea of a beer "of a place", that is to say beer that represents the essence of somewhere—not the IPA is the best example, but here's what I mean. For me, the smell of a pinewood bonfire always evoke New York's fantastic Adirondack State Park. I could be on South Carolina beach or in my urban backyard, but if if I get one whiff of pine needles smoldering—BANG! I'm around a campfire in the Adirondacks, or at least that's where my imagination goes.

Why can't a beer do that? I'm talking about something other than remembering a beer you once had at the beach, or hop genetics interacting with the environment to produce some kind of terrior. I'm talking about the beer making a connection—a real connection—to a place. Wouldn't a beer that represents where it's from—and incorporates ingredients so associated with that place—be the epitome of a local brew? There's a lot of representation in beer today, and there's a lot of justifying of ingredients in beers, but how much of that truly evokes a "place"?  

Not much. 

Let's work on that.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Sign of the Times

I'm sure if I should laugh or cry.

© American Business Journals

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Albany Ale: Beery History on High

One of the things that became apparent pretty quickly while I was working on my bits of Upper Hudson Valley Beer is that beer does not exist in a vacuum—historically speaking, that is. It's interwoven in the social and economic history of wherever that beer is made. People and places that on the surface have nothing to do with beer, quite frequently pop up in the story, and as I often joke—it all comes back to beer.

This weekend I experienced just that when I went hiking. That's right, hiking.

With my wife and the kids in tow, we headed west, from Albany  to Middleburgh, New York, and the heart of the Schoharie Valley. Rising above the valley is Vroman's Nose, a 1,200 feet tall "scour and pluck" formation—a geological rarity by which the side of the hill was scraped, or "plucked" off by passing glaciers of the Pleistocene—resulting in an abrupt cliff on the hill's southern face.  And, it's just about one of the best day hikes in all of Central New York. The hike is a fairly easy trek of about a 3/4 of mile, and the trail is lined with hemlock and oak. Easy, but admittedly, I was a bit sweaty carrying my lot's lunch—from the Carrot Barn at Schoharie Valley Farms—in a backpack, by the time we reached the top. A bit of perspiration is worth it once you reach the summit, because the Nose offers a spectacular view of the valley—especially this time of year when the fields below are a patchwork of greens and tan; and the the hills which form the valley are in sharp contrast to the bright blue sky.

The Nose, brings something else to the table. Its summit is a 30 feet wide flat, plateau, dubbed the "Dance Floor". Its sandstone surface makes for the perfect canvas, and is etched with names and dates ranging from last year's graduating class of Middleburgh High, to valley residents from the 1850s and 60s—and probably much earlier. There are hundreds of names carved into the floor, and you could spend hours exploring the valley's history, literally etched into stone.

So what's the beery connection to a Devonian-era rock pile?

In 1713 Adam Vrooman established the first farm in the Schoharie Valley, and Vroman's Nose is his namesake. Vrooman had immigrated from the Netherlands in the 1670s, first to Beverwyck, then to Arent van Curler's settlement on the Mohawk River, Schenectady. Vrooman built a mill, brewery and a family in Schenectady, until tragedy struck on the night of February 8, 1690. That fateful night, a contingent of nearly 200 Canadien and Mohawk raiders, slaughtered many of the villagers and destroyed most of the settlement in retaliation for a similar massacre in the French frontier settlement of Lachine, in what is now Quebec. Vrooman defended his family home and brewery, with his eldest son, Barent, and a single rifle, but his efforts were for naught. His wife and youngest son were murdered, and ten-year-old Barent was kidnapped and taken to French held territory.

Vrooman, would eventually travel to Canada, and negotiate for his son's release. With Barent free, Adam expanded both his brewing and milling operations in Schenectady, buying land along the Brandywine creek. Barent took over his fathers brewing endeavor, and continued to operate well into the 18th century. When Adam retired to his Schoharie Valley farm in 1726, he was one of Schenectady's wealthiest businessmen, and the city's most successful early brewer.

See what I mean?

Beeryiness, that on the surface doesn't seem beery, but like the sandstone etchings on the Dance Floor of Vroman's Nose, if you look close, the history is there.

Like I said, it always comes back to beer.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Splitting of Belgian Hairs

I’ve been ruminating on what Stephen Beaumont wrote last week about Belgian beer—or more precisely, that beer brewed outside of Belgium with a traditionally “Belgian” yeast strain does not a Belgian beer make. I know I’m coming at this a bit late, but I wasn’t sure about my opinion on his proposed axiom.

Stephen’s point is basically this: Belgium has a diverse range of ale and lager, each with it’s own range of characteristics, often unique to individual breweries. Simply blanketing all yeast forward beers as “Belgian” or even “Belgian-style”—especially beers not made in Belgium—is in his words is "...a great disservice to the country’s long brewing traditions and current diversity, not to mention the beer, the brewer and the drinker..."

That’s a pretty broad coating of disservice. But I’m not sure I care.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t approve of outright disrespect, and I can can see Stephen’s point, but at what point does factual preciseness begin to blur in pedantry? 

If a group of co-workers were to suggest "Italian" for lunch, and I were chime in “Southern or Northern Italian? Sicilian or Roman?” I would be met with a cacophony of shut-ups and fuck yous. Think of the looks you’d receive at the oil change place when filling in the make and model info on the obligatory form, if you wrote “Honda” and “Civic,  but also added a little note saying that “Although Honda Motor Company is headquartered in Japan, this particular Civic was made in Greensburg, Indiana, and not to be confused with one made in made in Turkey, Thailand or China.” You might need to prepare for a few obscene gestures, or at the very least, a few more charges tacked onto your bill.

How is using the prefix “Belgian” any different than how “American” or "American-style" is used?

The phrase “American” has begun to imply intensely bitter and hoppy beers–but is that indicative of all American beer? No. That didn’t stop Adnams, Mikkeller, Green King, Brains, Wojkówka and— Belgium’s own—Brouwerij Van Viven from releasing American-style IPAs. No one seems to be dis-served on this side of the Atlantic. Speaking as the drinker, I surely don't care. 

In a perfect beery world every beer drinker in the English-speaking realm would know the difference between Old Bruin and an Abbey Ale, but they don't, and we're quite a ways away from a perfect beery world, aren't we? 

No amount of fist shaking is going to change that.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gratuitous Self-Promotion: O-fficial Book Launch of "Upper Hudson Valley Beer"!

I’m a big fan of the Albany Institute of History & Art. Not only is the museum one of the oldest in the U.S., founded in 1791; and not only do they having an amazing assortment of artifacts and ephemera in both their collections and library—nearly all of which are Albany-related.—but they also really like beer.

For that matter they also seem to like Alan and myself. 

The Institute has been gracious enough to invite me to speak, not once, but twice on the history of brewing in the Upper Hudson Valley, at their Hudson Valley Hops event. They hosted our cask tap and 1901 Albany Ale recreation event last September, and donated—I stress donated—many images from their collections for use in our book. Plus, they are, as a general rule, cool people. Alan and I could not ask for a better community and cultural partner when it comes to the Albany Ale Project and our work rediscovering the history of beer and brewing in Albany and the Upper Hudson Valley. After all that—which is far more than we ever hoped for—they have asked to host the official launch of Upper Hudson Valley Beer.

That’s right. I’m announcing our first official book event!

Please join myself, and the cast and crew of the Albany Institute of History & Art, at the Albany Institute of History & Art on September 11, 2014, from 6pm to 8pm, for a beery good time. Tickets are available on the AIHA’s website for $30 per person or $50 per couple. The price includes a copy of the book (I’m happy to sign it, too) and beer.

Wait…what? Beer? Yup, that’s how the AIHA roll.

Along with the book launch, they’ve also invited the gang from Remarkable Liquids stop by and dole out samples of some of the region’s best beer! 

Me, history, and beer all in one convenient package. Who could ask for anything more? Don't answer that.

Give a click here for all the info, and online ticket sales, and I’ll see ya’ on the 11th.